TWIN FALLS — The Magic Valley can be paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, especially when warm weather sends residents and visitors en masse to bodies of water.
But as summer approaches, there are inevitably tales of tragedy on the water. The most recent came May 12 when Erinest Nsabimana, 20, died while swimming at Dierkes Lake.
On average, the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office deals with one drowning-related death per year, spokeswoman Lori Stewart said.
“We want people to be able to explore all the things there are to do here,” Stewart said. “It’s heartbreaking to lose someone in that way.”
With summer right around the corner, it’s never too early to learn of the importance of water safety. Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Lt. Daron Brown said that people often overestimate their ability when swimming. Many times swimmers don’t take precaution and don’t wear a life jacket when out in the water.
Brown suggests families avoid locations such as Pillar Falls for swimming activities. Many swimmers get sucked under the water — with its unforgiving and unique hydraulics — and end up below the rocks. The location can also be difficult for search and rescue to access quickly. He suggests families visit local pools instead.
“A swimming activity should be in a place with lifeguards,” Brown said.
As an owner and operator at Idaho Guide Service, Shelley Gardner is a self-proclaimed life jacket expert.
When whitewater rafting, proper life jackets are required. The best, Gardner said, is a class five life jacket — designed for special use with the activity designated on the tag. They are often used for canoeing, kayaking and boardsailing.
“If you are breathing, then it’s not tight enough,” she said.
Gardner said that a couple of years ago she saw a man and his son build their own boat to take rafting. Gardner was shocked and said that the second most important thing when rafting is common sense.
Paul Melni with AWOL Adventure Sports said that before people go kayaking, they need a life jacket, a whistle and stickers certifying that your boat is free of invasive species.
Many times people need to be prepared to rescue themselves when in a river, said Twin Falls Sheriff’s Deputy Levi Meyer, the office’s marine patrol supervisor. Point your feet down the stream when in swift water to avoid your head colliding with a rock. People should avoid driving boats while drunk, watch for weather and, most importantly, use common sense.
“They are probably getting tired of me saying this, but you should always wear a life jacket,” Meyer said. “It increases survival by 50%.”
Drowning is the largest leading cause of accidental deaths for children ages 1 to 4, said Jennifer Westendorf, Safe Kids coordinator at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.
“Swimming lessons help,” Westendorf said. “The basics help with survival.”
Fluctuating water levels can be a danger to anyone in the water. To stay well informed about Hells Canyon river flow, water levels at Brownlee Reservoir or flow information on the Snake River and its tributaries visit idahopower.com or call 1-800-422-3143.
“Always be aware that water levels can fluctuate,” Idaho Power spokeswoman Maria Willacy said.